David Jeremiah - Fully Engaged With My Family
I read about a man who said that before he got married, he had six theories about raising children. He says, "Now I have six children, I don't have any theories". I'm sure you've heard about Mark Twain's succinct advice about raising children. He said, "Things run along pretty smoothly till your kid reaches 13. That's the time you need to stick them in a barrel, hammer the lid down nice and snug, and feed him through a knothole". And he said, "When he turns 16, plug up the knothole".
Now, I don't think that's a good, if there ever was a time when we needed some encouragement and instruction on this part of family life, this is it. But let's be honest, parenting is tough. I have 4 children and 12 grandchildren in all stages of ages. And we still have some toddlers that come to our house, and we have a big box there with blocks in it, and Donna has it all set up so when they come. And when one of them comes, it's peaceful. When two of them come, it's really interesting. I called Jennifer this week, and I told her, I said, "I found this, I think you should hear this, and you tell me if it's true". And she was laughing all the way through it.
These are the property laws of a toddler, the property laws of a toddler. "If I like it, it's mine. If it's in my hand, it's mine. If you take it from me, it's mine. If I had it a little while ago, it's mine. If it's mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way. If I'm doing or building something, all the pieces are mine. If it looks just like mine, it's mine. If I saw it first, it's mine. If you are playing with something and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine. If it's broken, it's yours". The property laws of a toddler. Well, the Bible tells us in Ephesians 6, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise, 'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.' And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord".
If you read the book of Ephesians, you will discover quite quickly that this passage is at the end of a section of Scripture where Paul is teaching the believers how to live by being filled with the Holy Spirit. That means being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Let me just lay this down as a principle. If we're going to have families that honor the Lord, it's going to take more than we have to offer. It's going to take the Holy Spirit working through us. And the interesting thing about it is that the Bible teaches that one of the results of being filled with the Holy Spirit is that we will be submitting one to another, and the Bible says, "Wives, submit to their husbands," and husbands are loving their wives, and children are obeying their parents, and parents are bringing oversight to their children. The Bible says that when we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, it affects how we live our lives at home.
And I'm here to tell you that if you're going to be a Christian at home, it's going to take you and the Holy Spirit working together because none of us has the creative power and energy to do what needs to be done on our own. The book of Ephesians in the sixth chapter begins by speaking to us concerning obedience. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord". I read about a father who won a toy at an office game. He called his three kids together to ask which one should have the present. "Who's the most obedient"? he asked. And the children all stared back at him in silence. Then he said, "Who never talks back to mother"? Again, the kids appeared to be mystified by the question. Then the father said, "Who does everything she says"? With that question, the kids were finally able to come to a conclusion. The three small voices answered in unison, "Okay, Dad, you get the toy".
Obedience is a fundamental building block of the home. Whether there are Christians in that home or not, obedience is what makes a family work. In fact, there are two remarkable passages in the Word of God that help us to understand that obedience in the home is at the center of our society. In the book of Romans, in the first chapter, Paul is describing a culture that has come unglued, to the point where the Bible says God gives this culture up. And he gives us a list of characteristics of that culture. Guess what's on the list? Disobedient to parents. When you get to the book of 2 Timothy chapter 3, Paul is writing to Timothy, and he's describing the culture that's going to be on this earth when Jesus comes back to take us to heaven. And again, there's a whole list of characteristics of what the world's going to be like when Jesus comes back. Guess what's on the list? Disobedience to parents.
Sometimes, we need to just remember that what we do in our own home is creating the society in which we live. Society is made up of many families. And the Bible gives us some instruction to hold our families together that becomes the glue that holds society together. Sometimes, it amazes me to remember that the Lord Jesus Christ himself was a child at one time, that he had to submit to the authority of his parents, Joseph and Mary. Did you ever stop to think that the God man was once the God teenager? Do you ever think about the fact that he grew up in a normal home, and he went through the stages of adolescence, yet in Luke chapter 2, verse 51, here are the words we read about the Lord Jesus Christ, "Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and he was subject to them". He was subject to his parents.
Think of it a moment, the ruler of the universe in submission to his mother Mary, the God of creation obeying two of his own creatures, a human mom and a human dad. And I know what some of you young people are thinking, some of you who are still at home. You're thinking, "Yeah, but my mom and dad are not exactly Mary and Joseph". And the principle still is the same. The Bible says we are to obey our parents in the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. How many of you know the Holy Spirit works in teenagers just as he does in parents? In this passage of Scripture, Paul gives us four reasons why children should obey their parents. The first reason is because it's a principle of morality. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord," now watch this, "for this is right".
How plain and simple is this truth? We should obey our parents in the Lord because it's just right. And I know we're living in a time when many are saying that there aren't any right things or wrong things. But I know also that down deep in our hearts, whether we have been in church or not, we know that some things are right and some things are wrong, we know that. There is an order in nature ordained by God that argues for the rightness of an action. And since parents bring the child into the world, and since they have more knowledge and wisdom than the child, it is right that the child should obey their parents.
In Paul's letter to the Colossians, there's a similar section, a verse that almost looks like the same verse that we just read, but there's a wonderful little difference. Colossians 3:20 says, "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord". Do you want to please the Lord? Then do what is right. If you want to honor the Lord who formed you and gave you life, and who sent his only Son into this world for your salvation, then why don't you just do what is right? Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Number two, we should obey our parents because it has a promise associated with it. Ephesians 6:2 says, "'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise".
I read that passage many times over the years without ever trying to figure out what it meant, then I went back and dug it up, and I realized it's very special. And it goes back to Exodus chapter 20, where we have the Ten Commandments, and the commandment in verse 12 is, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you". Now, if you go back and look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20, what you'll discover is God had given Moses four commandments up to this point, and there was no promise attached to any of them. But then we come to this fifth commandment, something changes. Why the promise? I don't know the answer to that except, for no other reason, I believe it is the evidence that God has placed great priority on this instruction.
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, and honor your father and mother, so that you may live long upon the land which the Lord your God has given you". We are to obey our parents in this culture because this is God's design. And God says that somewhere down the road, we will look back and be glad that we did. Even though we might struggle with it now, struggling with obedience to parents is part of the unhooking process that we go through as we get older. But if we try to push that process ahead of schedule, it will cause great damage to us and to our families. Number three, the Bible tells us that we are to obey our parents because it provides protection from harm. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord," and it says, verse 3, "that it may be well with you".
Now, I'm sure there are disobedient rebels out there who have violated this command, and have somehow made it through this life unscathed. But truth be told, I never met one. I don't know any. The simple fact is that everybody has to report to somebody, can I get a witness? That doesn't stop when a person turns 20. Everybody has to learn the principle of submission to authority. And if we don't learn it at home, where it is supposed to be learned, then we will struggle with it all of our lives. And someday, there will be a notification in a file that has your name on the top of it, and it will say, "Struggles with authority".
I can assure you that I never, ever thought of smart-mouthing my dad, never even considered it. Intuitively, I knew what would happen to me if I ever did, and it just wasn't worth it. And it was a good thing for me to grow up with that knowledge. It's helped me all the way through life. Everybody reports to somebody. I report to a board of deacons, and I report to a board of trustees here in this church, I report to a major board of leaders at "Turning Point". Everybody reports to somebody, and ultimately we report to God. You see, in life, the principle of service and working and being submissive to people who are over you is a building process. If you cannot understand what it means to report to someone, you have no right for anybody to report to you. Authority is learned in the family, it's learned in the home. The Bible says that if we obey our parents, it will be well with us. Here's the fourth reason, because it promotes long life.
Now, I know everybody's got their ears perked here because everybody wants a long life. "That you may live long on the earth". Obedient children in the Old Testament did live longer, and discipline in a child's life is usually conducive to good health. Does that mean that a person who's disobedient always dies young, and a person who's obedient always lives into his 90s? I know you're all thinking of illustrations of some sorry, disobedient, non-authoritarian person who lived to be 95. Maybe it's in your family. You're wondering how he ever did it. But let me explain something to you.
Here in this section of Scripture, we're dealing with proverbs, and proverbs aren't necessarily promises. Proverbs are about the way life is. The whole book of Proverbs, which was written primarily by Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, is a book of maxims, things that tell you how life usually works. You have to know the difference between a proverb and a promise. For instance, in the month of April, in Portland, Oregon, you would do well to carry an umbrella. When you see a sleeping pit bull, you would do well not to yank on his ear. Will it always rain in Portland on an April day? Will the pit bull always bite your arm off if you pull his ear? No, maybe not, but these are truths of life you can generally count on.
Now, let's face it, a person who grows up rebellious against every fabric of control has put himself in a path that leads to discouragement and destruction, and not to a good life. These rebellious ways have a way of taking a toll on the years you spend on the earth. People who follow God's instructions have a much better chance of living a reasonably good life for a reasonably long period of time. I recommend you follow this principle. Fully engaged obedience, did you get all those reasons, all in those few verses why should children obey their parents? Well, there's four good reasons. But in verse 4, the subjects change, and now the instruction is given to the parents. So verse 4 is fully engaged oversight. This section of Scripture is written to parents.
Now, I know that the word "father" is in here, so sometimes wives use this passage of Scripture to say, "Whoa, I'm off the hook. This is for fathers". But I want to put you back on the hook, women. Because here's what I learned. The word that is translated fathers in Ephesians 6:4 is the exact same word that is found in Hebrews 11:23, where we read these words, "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents". So the instruction to fathers is really instruction to parents. And there are some principles that we can find just in one verse of Scripture that would transform our homes if we would just follow them. And grandparents, these are wonderful things to share with your children at the right time in the right moment, maybe when they've asked the question.
The first principle that comes out of this verse is the principle of discouragement. "And you, fathers," you parents, "do not provoke your children to wrath". This is the only negative principle you will find in these four verses. Paul begins by telling us what not to do as parents. One of my mentors, a man by the name of Warren Wiersbe, has a whole paragraph about this. Here's what he says. "Fathers provoke their children and discourage them by saying one thing and doing another, by always blaming and never praising, by being inconsistent and unfair in discipline, and by showing favoritism in the home, by making promises and not keeping them, and by making light of problems that to the children are very important. Christian parents need the fullness of the Spirit so they can be sensitive to the needs and problems of their children".
When Paul was writing this same lesson to the Colossians, once again he added something unique. He said, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged". Let me tell you something I've learned. For every time you have to say no, I hope you've worked hard to say yes eight or nine times. No in the context of yesses is far more powerful. No in the context of no's almost has no meaning. I get so weary about this, the worst display of how to deal with kids is usually found in Little League. If you want to figure out how not to deal with children, go watch a Little League game. Because, you see, the principle ought to be correct them in private, praise them in public.
How many then know it's exactly the opposite of that? Correct them publicly so everybody thinks you're the macho coach who should be coaching the New York Yankees instead of this little team. And if they did something right, pat them on the back as they run toward the dugout. You raise your family like that, and you'll have a bunch of rebels before you know it. Kids today need cheerleaders more than they need critics. And we're pretty good at criticism, a lot of us, and not so good at being cheerleaders. It's a reversal of the way the world teaches. But this is God's way. God is the one who said of his own Son Jesus Christ, at the moment of his baptism, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased".
When was the last time that message came from your parental mouth? Don't discourage your children. Next, the principle of diligence. The Bible says, "But bring them up". To bring up children is a scriptural phrase that means to help them morally, mentally, and physically become who they should be. Parents are to be proactive in trying to help their children develop the right principles. The principle of diligence, and then there's the principle of discipline. "Bring them up in the training of the Lord," says the Scripture. In the old King James, the word here is nurture, which means to train or develop. Hebrews 12:6, says, "For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives".
Discipline is a basic principle of life that's been lost in the culture of our families today. The government says you can't touch your child. Your kids know that rule better than you do. But listen to Proverbs, "My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest his correction; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, just as the father a son in whom he delights". Goes back to that old principle, "This is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you". I never believed that, and I don't believe it to this day. But I do believe that when we discipline our children, we are showing our love for them. If you never discipline them, if you never tell them no, if you always say yes to whatever they want to do, no matter how frivolous it may be, what you're saying to your kids is you really don't care. They can just go do their own thing.
Now, there are dozens of verses on discipline in the book of Proverbs, and I could take you through all of them, but you wouldn't remember them. There's just so many of them, so I just want to tell you two things about discipline that I've learned from study and from experience. Number one, discipline for disobedience, not for mistakes. Kids are going to do what kids do. And they should never be punished for a mistake. Save the punishment for rebellion and disobedience, but don't use it up on silly mistakes. You know why we do that? Because it irritates us. And when we get irritated, we want to irritate somebody else. Discipline for disobedience, and never for mistakes. And the second principle is important as the first, discipline for an individual act, never as an attack on a child's character.
Here's what I mean. If a child tells a lie, that doesn't make him a liar. When a kid swipes a piece of candy from the candy store, that doesn't make him a thief or a robber. Now, he committed an act that was wrong, he needs to deal with it. Probably all of you can remember your parents marching you back to the store where you grabbed that piece of candy and having to tell them what you did, and you were embarrassed, and they make sure you don't ever forget it. But one act does not make a character. As a man, I am much more than the sum of all my individual failures, thank the Lord. I've always acted in character in my life, but not always. Sometimes, to my shame, I've acted out of character. All of us have failed in some area. We've done things that we're embarrassed about as we look back on them, but those individual actions didn't create a person in the character of the act.
So when you discipline your children, don't get caught up in creating an exaggerated image of their life. If you keep on doing that, your child will become the fulfillment of your prophecy. You keep calling him a liar when he lied once, and he'll become a liar. The last of the four principles for oversight is the principle of direction, "Bring them up in the admonition of the Lord". Training in the earlier verse is correction. Admonition is instruction. We need to teach our kids what is right. We need to help them learn the Scriptures.
I remember growing up in a pastor's home, and my parents introduced me to an organization called the Bible Memory Association. And I used to go to these classes every week, and get my little book, and learn the Scriptures that were in there, and got points for learning a Scripture. I know I didn't always do it for the right reason, but what I found out is that by learning the Scripture when you're young, they stay with you forever. Here's one that's really hard, Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me".
I learned that when I was 7 years old, and I never have forgotten it. Listen to the instruction. The Bible tells us to hide the Word of God in our hearts, and children are open to that. That's why we love Awana because Awana gets kids involved in the Scripture. The Word of God in the heart of a person will stay with them for life. And while they may not be following it along the way, they will remember that it's there, and at the right time, it can be brought back up to help them find their way. Parents, we need to instruct our children. I remember reading this exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14 and 15, "But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the holy Scriptures," from childhood.
So there you have it, folks, what the Bible says about being fully engaged parents both from the standpoint of obedience on the part of the children and oversight on the part of parents. I want to tell you what I know after 4 children, 12 grandchildren. Parenting is hard. It's hard. Most wonderful thing in the world, but it's hard. And all of us, if we're honest, we struggle with how to put all this together. How do we make this work? How can we manage everything that we do in life, and our families, and be good parents in all of that? And I need you to know that all of us have struggled with it. I struggle with it in a major way.
Early on in my life as a parent, I went to Dallas Seminary and got out and went to New Jersey for a couple of years as a youth pastor, and then I was called to Fort Wayne, Indiana to start a church. And I went there in 1969, and with 7 families, we started the Blackhawk Baptist Church. My church put a lot of pressure on me. My little church was too close to where my parents lived, too close to where I went to school, too well-connected with a lot of people that knew me and knew where I'd been, and I surely did not want to fail. I don't apologize for that. I'm not sure it was always godly motivation, but it was motivation. I didn't want to be the guy who went to start a church, and it failed, so like I've always done with everything, I did it with all my heart, night and day, to a fault.
Studying in the day, working on the phones, going to visit after school, visiting in the evenings. There were many weeks when I had a schedule that would make an insurance salesman feel like he hadn't gone to work. But I was out of control. I was totally out of control. We had 2 babies, and I'm working 70, 80 hours a week trying to build this church. And I would come home at night, and quite often Donna would say to me around dinnertime, "Are you going to be out again tonight"? Then I would give my little pious speech about how I was the gross national product of this church, and if I didn't do it, nobody was going to do it. "Yes, I'm going to be out. And I can't help it. If we're going to build this church, I got to do it".
You can see I remember the speech. And that went on for some time, and then one day, when we had this little discussion, my sweet wife said to me, "Honey, we need to talk". If you've never heard those words before, men, those are usually important words that something is about to happen. And we went into the kitchen, and we sat down, I'll never forget what she said to me. She said, she said, "David, you know, I admire your work ethic, and I know what you're doing, you think you're doing right". But she said, "We have these two children, they never see you, I don't see you". And she said, "And every time I mention it to you, I feel like I'm arguing against God. Who am I to say that you should stop doing what you're doing? You're serving God". But she said, "I also know that you're also a parent. And one of these days, you're going to give an account to the Lord for being a parent". So she said, "I've been talking to the Lord about this, and we've come to a decision, and here's my decision". She said, "I will never again ever ask you if you're going to be gone tonight. I will never do that because you're the priest in this house. I am going to tell you you deal with that, you and the Lord. If he tells you to keep doing what you're doing, you do it, but you talk to the Lord about this, and then you do whatever he tells you to do. And I'm going to leave this between you and him".
It was a mighty moment in my life. I've told Donna this many times, I thank her for that. I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I'd have continued the same way I was going. I had every reason to do it, I was doing it for God. But that day, I remembered getting on my knees and asking God to forgive me for messed up priorities, and making a commitment to him that with all my heart, just like in everything else, I was going to be a father. And that whatever my kids needed, I was going to be there for them. Wherever they needed me to be, I would be there. And I'm looking back over my shoulder now, and remembering flying back and forth across the coast for football games that I should never have had any reason to do except for one thing, I was their dad. I've never regretted that.
And I remember after that was all over, one day I was in my office, and I wrote down what my priorities of life should be based upon being a Christian father. Here they are, I'm going to give them to you, there's four of them. They're real easy to remember. You probably don't even have to take notes. Here they are, "I am a person, and I have a relationship with God," priority number one. "I am a partner, and I have a relationship with my spouse," priority number two. "I am a parent, and I have a relationship with my children," priority number three. And then, "I am a pastor, and I have a relationship with my church".
I remember the first time I shared that with this congregation and told them, with a smile on my face, that I hated to remind them that they were now number four on my list. I can't tell you how many people either came to me or wrote me and said, "Don't ever let us get higher. Because, Dr. Jeremiah, if one, two, and three aren't right, you don't have anything to offer to us". And I believe that with all my heart. And I want to encourage you, parents, you can make this work. You just need to sit down and figure out that your kids and your wife are more important than anything else.
Factor them into your schedule, somehow make it work, and then commit yourself to it. And you'll fail, and then you'll always come back. But if you have a list, if you have a formula, if you have that formula, you will always have some place to come back to. And God will help you. The secret to our success as a church is the health of our families. And I hope that today, maybe God put something in your heart that will help you to make your families, your children, your grandchildren strong. We're in this for the long haul, and God wants us to be healthy. This is one of the building blocks for that goal.